‘How long since you ate some chocolate?’ my husband says.
‘Six and a half weeks,’ I reply, bright-eyed.
We’d been in his parents’ kitchen earlier and his mum had pulled out some super dark and bitter stuff which, to be fair, I don’t really like anyway (I’m a golosa – sweet tooth) and for the first time ever, I hadn’t eaten any.
‘Maybe you should start again,’ he said gently. ‘Just a piece every now and then, you know.’ My hackles went straight up. It seemed like the equivalent of telling an alcoholic to ‘just have a glass of wine’.
I understood what he was saying. Moderation is, of course the key to a long, happy, health life and the antidote to a restrictive, boring, miserable one.
But he’s good at moderation. He’s grown up active, healthy fit: he indulges sometimes and pulls back sometimes. He’s well-practised in good judgement in this arena.
Since I can remember, I’ve attached emotion to food. Predominantly fear. Shame and guilt have had bit parts too. Frustration, confusion have had their days in the sun. I felt like a pinball in a machine. For years.
There has been a lot of psychological baggage to unpack; a lot of behaviours to un-learn, a lot of utter garbage in terms of nutritional advice to filter through.
Food is pretty important: unlike alcohol, you can’t just not eat (trust me, I tried it). And it’s the same stimulus-reward circuit in the brain that’s employed both in disordered eating and other types of addiction. For something so fundamental, we mess it up so monumentally. I’m too old to have even had social media growing up: I had the internet, and that was enough. Hours wasted ready articles that were full of total crap (sorry not sorry) about the latest diet fad. There was a stage where I could have given you the macro nutritional profiles of most of the stuff that fills the shelves at Woolies or Tesco or Whole Foods. These days not so much. When I buy bread from the bakery next door I don’t know how much it weighs, and there are definitely no nutritional profiles on the paper bag it comes in.
The times I’ve felt the saddest or most anxious are the times I’ve been the smallest. Cue: getting told by parents of friends in my final year of school that ‘I’ll take you to the doctor if you get any skinnier’; losing seven kilos in five weeks after a breakup and having my adored clients at fitness studios ask me what eating plan I was on because I looked ‘fantastic’. ‘The anxiety plan’ I replied, deadpan.
The moderation thing? I think it’s a matter of trust. You need to know you’re not going to balloon from eating Christmas lunch, or having a piece of cake every now and then. It takes practice. And compassion.
It’s also about knowing it’s ok to take up space in the world: physical space as well as intellectual space. That it’s ok to be here. Yeah, it’s that fundamental. Especially for women.
I have slowly cultivated my more positive body image, my appreciation for what this physical house I live in can do. I am excited to see what it still can do in the future. And while I have weeded out negative thoughts and habits, it has been slow. I don’t use that word carelessly. It’s taken time and effort that I have therefore not been able to dedicate to other parts of my life. I avoid thinking about just how much that learning and unlearning has cost me: I could probably have studied nuclear science by now. Or at least finished my law degree…
It’s been re-introducing bacon, and gluten, and finally the ultimate nemesis: pizza (Italy, I know, I live in Italy, the irony, the irony); it’s been learning what a hungry stomach feels like; and what a full one feels like. To sit with my husband (before-he-was-my-husband) while he fed me pasta. To not always carry snacks around ‘in case’ I got hungry. In a world where nobody I know is starving, where my house has food andwhere there are places I can always get it if I need it, it was a psychological crutch. End of story.
It’s meant taking time to breathe while I do all this. That there are no shortcuts. And there are no medals at the end of it.
The reason I had to stop eating chocolate for a while? There were days I would eat a whole block. Or hide it in the pantry. Or have a block in my handbag. We laugh off ‘wine mums’ and ‘binging’ on a Friday night while we watch The Bachelor. Or The Bachelor in Paradise. I probably have the wrong show and the wrong day but I don’t have a TV, so I’m not that up in pop culture.
Either way - if you’re still reading after that confession, we normalise this sort of behaviour as if it were ok. It’s not. It’s not ok for our health and it’s not ok for our minds. And I reckon most of us know that, if we dig deep enough and are honest with ourselves. Binge is a pretty serious word, and alcoholism laughed off in memes isn’t funny.
I had the ‘raw’ chocolate period too. I remember justifying eating a Pana Chocolate bar as a substitute for breakfast early one Saturday morning in Bondi, when I was on a business development trip for a health food company (more irony) I used to run by telling myself I had a busy day and had arrived on a late flight. Eggs and veggies is a healthy breakfast. Oats and fruit is a healthy breakfast. Christ even Vegemite on wholemeal toast is a pretty ok start to the day. Chocolate isn’t. And let’s be honest - for the price of raw chocolate I probably could have got eggs on toast in Sydney. No avocado though, right?
So when eight weeks rolls around this week I’ll see how I feel about it all and whether I’m ready to break our ‘break’. Because it wasn’t just a sugar addiction: it was seeking food as comfort or distraction that was the real habit I had to ditch. Demonstrating to myself that I could be ok without that little (or big) Kinder in my handbag was crucial. I wanted more from life than to be held hostage by food. I wanted to be free from the power it held over me. And now I am. And now it’s time to keep weeding that garden.